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Arlington looks to create civilian review board for police department

A file photo of an Arlington County Police cruiser (Image: 7News)
A file photo of an Arlington County Police cruiser (Image: 7News)
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Arlington is looking to take another step forward in police reform with the establishment of a civilian review board and independent auditor for its police department, but the local NAACP president says the change doesn’t go far enough.

“People will say anything's better than nothing, but I know there's gaps in it and those gaps need to be filled. We're selling the public short,” said Julius Spain, president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP.

Spain takes issue with the draft ordinance which outlines the duties of the civilian review board (CRB).

He considers it to be in opposition to the intent of the Virginia General Assembly when it gave more power to those boards.

“If we don't get it right now, what's going to end up happening is you're going to have a watered-down ordinance that's going to be ineffective,” said Spain.

The reforms stem from the police murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests which caused county leaders to look at their own police department and in turn create a police practices group to come up with recommendations to make policing more equitable.

Spain’s biggest concern with the draft proposal is the limits it places on the CRB when it comes to discipline.

According to a summary of the discussion from a May 15 meeting, there is an option for the CRB to conduct its own investigations while criminal or administrative investigations are taking place, though that is not the recommendation of the county manager.

The county manager also did not recommend the CRB to hire or retain independent investigators to pursue details of a specific incident.

The summary also details the proposed ordinance making the final disciplinary action up to the Arlington County Chief of Police.

There are a number of reasons given for why those items were and were not recommended.

The document points to independent agencies already investigating cases, parallel investigations being costly and inherent difficulties with citizens weighing in on administrative investigations.

Spain, however, sees it differently.

“We don't hate our police, but we want to put mechanisms in place, checks and balances, ways in which we can hold people accountable, and the way the ordinance is written right now, kind of falls short of that,” he said.

His organization along with Arlington for Justice sent a letter to the county board detailing the changes they’d like to see in the draft ordinance.

To date, we have not heard back from the county manager, we being the NAACP nor has Arlington for Justice and many others, heard back from them about our recommendation and that's concerning.

Discussion is ongoing with a hearing slated for July 17.

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Residents can start signing up to speak on the issue Monday.

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